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One of Europe’s biggest cities, with declared ambitions to rival Marseille or Barcelona, or even its twinned city of Miami, this regional metropolis comprising 49 ‘communes’ has become the fifth largest city in France with about 350,000 inhabitants, which accounts for around 35% of the population of the Alpes-Maritimes department, of which it is the capital.

Slightly restricted in its expansion between hills and sea, set on a magnificent bay, Nice is not only a town for well-off retirees and wealthy tourists, but is a modern town with a young population, 34% of whom are under 30 years of age. A large number of students live here too (around 40,000!). It is a very vibrant, forward-looking city, where you can stroll through the picturesque old town, and moments later end up on the beach. Furthermore it is not at all far to get into the Provençal countryside, or the Italian countryside for that matter, still fairly authentic in character. The French have long considered Nice to be the most appealing city in France. Often used as a pilot location for major ecological and environmental projects, it enjoys over 300 days of sun per year!

The town is notable for contemporary art, offering superb exhibition spaces and excellent museums, which gather together works by Matisse, Chagall, Yves Klein too, and many others (even for example César, Christo…), who together form what is known as the School of Nice, or new realism, an artistic movement which emerged at the end of the 1950s and persisted until the beginning of the 1970s, and which has often been compared to the American pop art movement. The ‘city of light’ continues to attract numerous artists in our own time, such as the famous graffitist Ben and the sculptor Bernar Venet.

Of course, mention must be made of the famous and historic Carnival of Nice, which has followed a set protocol down through the generations since the 13th century, blending pagan Roman rituals and Christian traditions, giving the masses a chance to let their hair down each February, before the beginning of Lent. The procession ends up in the pedestrianised centre of Nice at Place Masséna, with its red ochre facades and with its 128 water jets and ‘water mirror’ located at the entrance to the promenade.

Place Massena

Nice, Place Masséna, photo by RnDmS / Shutterstock.com

The famous Promenade des Anglais extends 8km, two of which are in the town centre itself, forming the marine frontage of the town. Its name comes from the British people who had seafront villas here at the end of the 18th century, and who strolled along the seaside path. It has undergone successive transformations to become what you see today: a 2-metre-wide road in 1822, then 4 metres in 1844, then enlarged again in 1862, when it was already being referred to as a promenade and was even equipped with gas lamps to light it up. It was from around the 1920s and 30s that it began to look more or less as it does now. Whilst the magnificent villas of the past are mostly now replaced by apartment buildings, the Promenade is still lovely and open to all, although the traffic is fairly heavy.

La Promenade des Anglais
Bay of Nice

Some beautiful villas and vestiges of the Belle Epoque era do still remain, the example which springs to mind is undoubtedly the Negresco palace, dating back to 1912. Nowadays, the owner has made it into a real museum in its own right. Classed as a historic monument in 2003, it houses no less than 6000 works of art, notably paintings, by often prestigious artists from the Renaissance to the present day.

The beaches, which are pebbly, stretch for 8km. They are mostly public, free to use and supervised and often are even equipped with hot showers and toilets. There are also some private beach clubs, quite chic.

In Nice there are at least 200 hotels, including three 5* establishments and 34 4* hotels; it is the second most popular tourist destination in France after Paris.

Nice Airport
Nice Airport

Its airport, situated at the end of the Promenade des Anglais, 8km from the centre, has mainly been constructed by reclaiming land from the sea. It is the second busiest airport in France with more than 12 million passengers per year. Its two terminals welcome 60 airlines from over 100 global destinations, and it is connected to the town centre and the TGV train station by express and town buses, and soon also via a new tramway.